Holkham Hall (South Face), Norfolk. Image by James Blakeley
That an Englishman’s home is his castle, is a well used phrase about the English love affair with their own bricks and mortar. But in the eighteenth century it might as well have been stated that an Englishman’s home was his own classical Arcadia. During that century countless English gentlemen were sent off on the Grand Tour to finish their education and many came back with a passion for all things classical, and quite often they came back with a treasure trove of antiquities as souvenirs (both authentic and fake).
Thomas Coke by Trevisani. Collection of the Earl of Leicester.
One such Grand Tourist who returned to England with a particularly spectacular classical vision was Thomas Coke (1697 1759) 1st Earl of Leicester (fifth creation).
Coke set off on his grand tour between 1712 -1718 and came back not only with an extensive new library, an enviable collection of art and classical sculpture, but also with a BIG idea. He planned to create a perfect Palladian country house set amidst an Arcadian Idyll in the heart of the English countryside.
During his travels he met Lord Burlington, the man who helped revive the Neo Palladian movement in Britain in the eighteenth century, and William Kent the noted Palladian architect and landscape architect.
Coke sounds like the typically Fielding-esque ‘squire Weston’ type of English gentleman – his favourite pass times were drinking, gambling and cockfighting. And despite his aristocratic wealth, he wasn’t immune from financial troubles, he suffered heavy financial losses when the South Sea Bubble burst in 1720, which seriously delayed his construction plans.
Nevertheless with the help of Kent and Burlington, and a host of others, Coke set about creating one of Norfolk’s, and England’s, grandest stately homes: Holkham Hall. The Holkham estate, with its Perfect Palladian palace and landscape repleat with lake, obelisks, arches and temples was the Earls very own little piece of Italy on English soil. But despite its visual appeal, it was also an expression of the Earl’s Whig political principles – Whigs were rather fond of likening themselves to the Ancient Romans and his political allies would have recognised Holkham as much as a political statement as an aesthetic and intellectual one.
Holkham Hall, section of the Saloon, Matthew Brettingham 1761.
The hall took so long to complete that, sadly, Thomas did not live to see it finished. He died in 1759 and it was left to his indomitable widow, Lady Mary Tufton, to ensure that his plans for the hall were carried out. Holkham Hall was finally finished in 1764, five years after Thomas Coke’s death; and the grounds not until the mid-nineteenth century. The final cost of the hall has been estimated at £90,000 and this astronomical cost ensured that the hall was left virtually unaltered by subsequent heirs. Holkham Hall remains one of England’s finest Palladian Houses and is still lived in by the Coke family to this day.
Holkham Hall has long been one of my favourite Stately Homes and here are a few of my photographs, taken over a number of years. With thanks to James Blakeley for permission to reproduce his photographs. (Other images have been sourced from the internet and credited as appropriate).
The Marble Hall. The hall is actually made of Derbyshire Alabaster. The coffered dome was based by an Inigo Jones design inspired by the Pantheon at Rome. Image by Lenora.
The Marble Hall. The Fluted Columns may have been based on those from The Temple of Fortuna Virilis. Image by Lenora.
Eighteenth century painting of the interior of the Pantheon in Rome. Artist GP Panini.
The Saloon. Hung with Rich red Genoa Velvet wall hangings, this plush room would have been used by Coke to entertain his Whig friends. Image James Blakeley.
Pier glass and window, the Saloon. Thomas Coke wanted a comfortable, if palatial, home. To ensure the rooms were not too cold, he limited the number of windows to just enough to light each room. Image by Lenora.
Costumes from ‘The Duchess’, starring Keira Knightley, on display in the drawing-room or Saloon. I forget which. Image by Lenora.
A corner of the terrace garden viewed through glass on a rainy day. Image by Lenora.
Rather than corridors, the rooms are enfiladed and open on to each other. Image by Lenora.
The Landscape Room. On his Grand Tour Thomas Coke collected many fine landscape paintings by Claude Lorrain and Poussin. Image by James Blakeley.
The Long Library. Coke brought home many books from his Grand Tour. This is now the Coke family’s main sitting room. Image by Lenora.
Even such a grand house has its cosy corners. Image by Lenora.
A classical bookcase in one of the Tribunes. Image by Lenora.
The Green State Bedroom (bed not visible). Image by James Blakeley
The Parrot Bedroom so-called because of the Frans Snyders painting of Parrots and Macaws that hangs on the wall. Image by Lenora.
Chandelier in the North Tribune. The tribune leads to the gallery that houses the sculptures brought back from the Grand Tour by Thomas Coke. Image by Lenora.
View of one of the interior courtyards tucked away in the Hall. Image by Lenora.
The Chapel in the hall. Designed by Matthew Brettingham snr. Image by James Blakeley.
Cast Iron Kettle from the Old Kitchens. Image by Lenora.
The south face of Holkham Hall. Image by Lenora.
Before refrigerators were invented, those who could afford it had ice houses for storing ice. Image by Lenora.
The grounds were begun in 1729 before the construction of the hall; the the Obelisk which is 80ft high and dominates the parkland was built in 1730 to commemorate this. Image by Paul C. via Wikimedia.
The Doric Temple sited within Obelisk Woods which were planted in the 1720’s and 30’s. Image Xavier de Jauréguiberry by via Pinterest
The Triumphal Arch, designed by William Kent in 1739 and built in 1752. Image by Xavier de Jauréguiberry via Pinterest.
St Withburga Church, half a mile from the hall. Situated on the site of the medieval village of Holkham, the church dates from the 13th Century. It has the flint facings typical of Norfolk churches. Image by Lenora.
Entrance to the walled garden. Image by Lenora.
Holkham and ash tree. Image by Lenora.
Holkham Guide books – various
Holkham Hall is open to the public: